Please sign in to post.

Tour Report: Villages of South England

Okay, I'm bowing to public demand and starting my tour report. It occurred to me that I can do the report now, and that will help me formulate my review, which I will post later, probably next week. For this one, we'll go chronologically, and there's no way I'll get done today. We're running on short sleep after a long day yesterday. Edit: I was wrong; I did get done. Although I cringe to think of all the typos there must be. I'll correct them as I find them.

Day 1: We met our group at the tour hotel, Canterbury Cathedral Lodge. The hotel is actually located on the Cathedral grounds, and is quite nice: clean and modern. There were 24 people in our group, only 2 of whom had never been on a RS tour! That's a first, for us. Our guides are Roy Nicholls and Debi Jo Michael. Roy is a veteran guide who has worked for RS for over 20 years, and Debi Jo works in the RS office. She's the assistant on this trip, in part because she has played a major role in the planning and development.

After the introductory meeting, the group headed into town for our first group dinner, at Deeson's British Restaurant. I had the cheese soufflé with vegetables, and DH had roast chicken breast. He had a delicious chocolate and lemon mousse for dessert, while I enjoyed a cheese tray. The soufflé was very good, albeit tiny. DH was disappointed in the quality of the chicken, however. And we were disappointed, although not surprised, to find that alcoholic beverages are not included on this tour. Darn!

Day 2: We had a nice breakfast in the hotel, before our Cathedral tours. We split into two groups this morning; one group toured the stained glass workshop, while the second toured the Cathedral. Then we switched venues. The stained glass workshop was amazing. We got to see how the old windows are repaired, and how new ones are made. Great tour. The tour of the Cathedral itself was a bit rushed, in part because we were sharing the space with hundreds of very noisy French schoolchildren on field trips. But the tour was worthwhile, although an extra hour would have been appreciated.

The rest of the day was free, until we met to go to our second group dinner at the Whitstable Lobster Shack. The trip to Whitstable was fine, the venue was interesting, but the food was, on the whole, a letdown. Evidently we were late, or they had prepared the food too early, so it wasn't as good as it should have been. The choices included 1/2 lobster, backed cod (I think) and a mixed seafood platter that included oysters, smoked salmon, rollmops (pickled herring, rolled around a filling), shrimp, and various other items. The desserts were good.

Day 3: Today we toured Dover Castle and the Tunnels. On the way, we stopped at the impressive RAF monument, memorializing the pilots who fought the Battle of Britain. Very moving, especially on a foggy morning. Dover Castle was very interesting; I wish we had had more time to explore it. There are great exhibits there, showing what life was actually like. And the Tunnel tour was equally impressive, and again, very moving.

After the Tunnel tour, Roy and Debi Jo treated us to a wonderful picnic on the grounds of the castle. Very nice setting, good food, and our first introduction to cider! This (the setting, the informality of the meal, and the cider) helped loosen people up, and we began to come together as a group here.

After lunch we went to Goodnestone Gardens, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. For some of us, this was our first look at a formal English garden; for others, it was another notch in their garden viewing belt.

Posted by
4647 posts

Day 4: We had our second bus day today, heading to the village of Rye. On the way we stopped at the village of Hythe on Romney Marsh to view the narrow gauge railway and military canal. Then on to Rye. In Rye we viewed the village's sound and light show, depicting the high points (and some of the low points) of the history of the town. Then we had free time to explore the village and find lunch. After lunch the group headed off to Battle Abbey, the site of the famous Battle of Hastings. We were turned loose with headsets to explore the battleground and the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey on our own. This is where our rereading of the Brother Cadfael books paid off!

After Battle Abbey, we stopped at Pevensey to view the remains of a Roman and Norman fort. Next we were off to Beachy Head, for a walk along the cliffs. This was a high point of the tour. Beautiful area, and the weather was perfect. (Roy insisted our hike was only about 3/4 of a mile, but those of us who are regular walkers dispute that.) We ended up at the Star Inn in Alfriston, where we had another group dinner. A very busy but great day.

Day 5: Today we continued on our journey, heading South and West, via Portsmouth. I forgot to mention Adrian, our bus driver extraordinaire, who was letting us break in a brand new coach. As we were leaving for Portsmouth, a distracted driver clipped the back of the bus, breaking off his own mirror and leaving a nice scratch on Adrian's pride and joy. We headed on to Portsmouth, where Roy led us on a tour of the HMS Victory. After the tour, we were again turned loose to explore the area on our own, enjoy the many other sites, and find lunch.

Afterwards, the coach took us to Salisbury via a detour through the picturesque New Forest. In Salisbury, we checked in to the Rose and Crown, a quirky old hotel. After checking in, Roy led us on a brief walk through the Cathedral grounds, then turned us loose to explore the town on our own. The plan had been for us to arrive in Salisbury early enough to attend Evensong, but what with the accident, the heavy traffic, and the scenic detour, we were too late.

Day 6: This morning the group toured Salisbury Cathedral, as well as the associated Chapter House, with a splendid original copy of the Magna Carta. After lunch on our own in Salisbury, the group headed to Stonehenge. We did not get a guided tour here, but used audioguides to explore the ruins on our own. We returned home via Old Sarum, Salisbury's predecessor. We had some free time here to explore the ruins or just walk in the meadows, communing with the sheep.

Day 7: This morning we took the coach (or rather, the coach took us) to Corfe castle, some very impressive ruins. We were lucky that a number of re-enactors were having a gathering there that day. There were booths representing various craftsmen, foods of the Saxon period, and, of course, weaponry. Very nice.

From Corfe we took the steam train to Swanage, a great little seaside resort town, where we lunched and explored on our own. (Incidentally, this is where we had the best fish and chips of our entire stay in England, at The Fish Plaice.) The coach picked us up there, and took us through the Jurassic Coast area, although we didn't have time to get off and explore. We did stop for a break at Lyme Regis, then headed on to Chagford, to the Three Crowns Inn. We had a very good group dinner here.

Day 8: After breakfast at the hotel, we took a tour of Dartmoor with local guide Tom Joby, evidently a local character. In spite of the blustery weather, this was a great day. Lots of walking, some climbing, Bronze Age ruins. We warmed up with a coffee stop at Princetown, followed by a good pub lunch (on our own) at Widecombe-In-The-Moor. We then returned to Chagford, where we had plenty of time to explore the tiny village. (Don't miss the church and amazing graveyard across from the hotel.)

Posted by
1952 posts

I'm so enjoying traveling vicariously with you Jane! The tour sounds wonderful and I appreciate you taking time from your laundry, etc., duties to post :). Thank you for "taking me along."

Posted by
4647 posts

Day 9: We packed up early, and headed toward Cornwall. We stopped at St Aunstell for a tour of the famous brewery, where we were treated to a traditional "ploughman's lunch." The tour was very enjoyable - both interesting and informative, but evidently the brewery is not going to offer the full tour again. It's a pity; we all enjoyed it and learned a lot about beer and ale. After lunch we had free time to tour the beautiful and expansive Trelissic Gardens. Then on to Penzance, where we checked into the Hotel Penzance. In Penzance we had a very nice dinner featuring traditional English roasts. We were all glad to see the great choice of vegetables; they've been pretty rare on this tour so far. The dinner was at a downtown pub, the Star. There was folk music entertainment as well. [DH wants to interject a note here: the "folk music" was covers of such traditional groups as the Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Well done, but not what we were expecting.]

Day 10: This morning we tried to go to Gwenapp Pit, scene of much of John Wesley's activity here. Unfortunately, the road was too narrow for the coach to navigate, and after some impressive driving by Adrian and brush maneuvering by Roy, we were able to turn around and leave. (Much to the amusements of the locals, who wondered why we didn't just get off the bus and walk to the site - a good question.)

The next stop was at the Portreath Bakery in (I think) Redruth. Here we not only saw Cornish pasties being made, we got to make our own. We tried to take them onto the bus, but Adrian was having none of it. (The smell was permeating the interior, even though we hadn't made it all the way to our seats yet.)

We headed to Geenor Tin Mine, where some of us ate our pasties in the parking lot or in the café. Then we had a great tour of the mine, which was a working mine until relatively recently. Warning: there's a reason they make you wear hardhats! Back to Penzance for a free evening.

Day 11: Today we went to St Ives via coach and train. We had all morning free in St Ives, which was well worth exploring. Some people went to the museum; DH and I stumbled into a farmer's market where we scavenged lunch and had an interesting political discussion with a local young man.

Then on to Marazion, to St Michael's Mount. The home, still lived in, was worth the rugged climb up the rough staircase. Very impressive, although the walk would have been more pleasant had it not been raining and windy. We did have a good cream tea at the Godolfin after returning to Marazion. Back to Penzance for a free evening.

Day 12: Up early, heading to Tintagel, the purported birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. I must say I enjoyed this more than I had expected. It was another fairly steep climb, but there were options for anyone who couldn't handle the stairs. (Everyone in our group made it.) Beautiful views, interesting ruins. A good stop.

Then on to Bath, where we checked into the Brooks Guest House. Roy led us on a brief walk and orientation to Bath, probably briefer than planned because most of our group had been there before. Then finally we went to our farewell dinner at "Woods," a very nice restaurant. The food was excellent, and this time wine was provided! Lots of hugs and goodbyes after dinner.

Day 13: Tour over after breakfast, as usual. A great tour, and I heartily recommend it.

I will post a review sometime next week, using the old review format, just to point out some highs and a few lows. After I get my laundry done.

Posted by
297 posts

Thanks for the report Jane. It looks like a wonderful tour. Thanks for being a pioneer/Guinea pig. We had Roy for our Best of England tour. He is quite a character. We really enjoyed his humor. Hope you get back to your normal sleeping schedule soon and all the laundry is folded and hung up in the closet.

Posted by
914 posts

Thanks so much for the report. I have seen a lot of England, but not all that you covered. Sounds great!

Posted by
8400 posts

Thanks so much Jane!!! Excellent Trip Report. What fun to be on the inaugural tour and thanks for paving the way for the rest of us.

Posted by
524 posts

Wow, great trip report. Yes, you are correct on the location of the bakery. I'm very short, as you know, and I heartily recommend the hard hats during the mine tour. I managed to bump my head at least half dozen times!!

Posted by
1952 posts

Thanks again for posting your trip report, Jane. It was fun to read and it sounds like it was a wonderful tour in spite of the small glitches.

Posted by
4647 posts

You're all very welcome. It was a great tour, and I enjoyed rereading my notes to write the report.

Posted by
865 posts

Oh my gosh, I'm dying! Unfortunately, I've already done my tour for the year, so I'll have to wait for next year. Sigh ... !

Did you fly back home after Bath? I'm wondering if it was easy and convenient (time-wise) to get from there to LHR or Gatwick.

Posted by
4647 posts

Hi, Teresa:
We went back to London for a few days, but one of our tour mates took a bus directly from Bath to Heathrow. She bought the ticket online one day ahead of time with no problems, but they're significantly cheaper the earlier you book them.

Posted by
4647 posts

The bus company is National Express; they have a website. We took it from Bath to London. It's cheaper than the train, but takes longer. But, again, they have buses (coaches) that go directly from the Bath Coach Station to Heathrow.

Posted by
865 posts

Thanks for the info re getting to LHR. I was wondering if it was one of those deals where it's better just to return to London, spend the night, and then fly out the next day. Sounds like it's easy enough to take the bus to LHR on the morning the tour ends.

Posted by
1952 posts

Teresa, since Jane included the bus option information, I am guessing that's what we will do since we'll be leaving for Heathrow the last tour day. On most of the past tours I have taken, the guide often helped arrange transportation for groups with the hotel shuttle or other local transportation services to the airport. I'm guessing that wasn't a possibility for this tour? Seems easy enough to take the bus! Jane, I thank you again for all your information!

Posted by
4647 posts

You're both welcome. The tour member who took the bus to Heathrow did indeed have plane tickets for the last day of the tour. Her flight was scheduled for about noon; the bus got her to the airport by 10:30. And yes, our assistant guide, Debi Jo, did help her find the best way to the airport, since she (the tour member) was leaving the very next day and had not yet arranged transportation to the airport!

Some of the other tour members did share cars or other transportation modes, depending, of course, on where they were going. Most people stayed on, either in Bath, or headed off to another part of the UK. We took the bus back to London a day after the tour, and spent several days there. The train would have been faster, but we weren't in a hurry.

The advantage of the Heathrow bus is it is an express bus, and takes you all the way in to the airport; no changes necessary. The train from Bath, if I recall correctly, requires a change in London from whatever station you arrive at to Paddington, where you change again for the Heathrow Express.

Do buy your tickets early, once you've decided how you want to travel. There are deep discounts if you buy ahead of time. Happy travels!

Posted by
1952 posts

Thanks, Jane. Buying the tickets for the bus before we leave for England makes perfect sense. Then we won't have to worry about it at the end of the tour. And maybe we'll save some money for the next trip! I definitely like the idea of an "express" journey to the airport.

Posted by
4647 posts

I just edited the information for Day 9. I had confused the names of the hotel at which we stayed, and the pub where we had the good dinner. The hotel was the Penzance; the pub was the Star.

Posted by
527 posts

Interesting trip report! Thanks for posting. Which of the places, if any, would you want to revisit/spend more time exploring?

Posted by
4647 posts

Wow, good question. I would definitely like more time at Dover; we felt very rushed there. And both Dartmoor and the Beachy Head Downs would be super places to return for day hikes. St Ives was an interesting place, and I think it would be a better home base than Penzance. I think the only place I would not jump to revisit would be Penzance. It's okay, but not as quirky or interesting as St Ives. We did wander around one night in Penzance and find a great park in the western part of the town. And evidently there's a walking trail from Penzance to Mousehole that we didn't have time to take advantage of. And while Bath is lovely, I don't feel any burning urge to return. There are some interesting museums there, though.

So this doesn't really answer your question, does it? Thing is, we always find something interesting to do wherever we are.

Posted by
176 posts

Thanks for the trip report. We are signed up for the same tour for the 8/13 departure so your comments are very timely and info for choosing free time activities. Roy and Mark Seymour were our guides for the Best of England tour three years ago and we thoroughly enjoyed both. The only remaining issue is booking the express bus to LHR as we are flying on to Shannon to join the 8 days in Ireland tour following 5he Villages tour. MOre observations would be helpful!

Posted by
2788 posts

Jane mentioned that she was disappointed that alcoholic beverages were not included in group meals. This has been the case for some years now and is clearly stated in the tour information that tour members receive before the tour. It is also stated somewhere on the RS web site. I am about to take my 14th RS tour (Portugal) and have been on tours years ago when alcohol was provided and saw several tour members over-do the alcohol which back then was free. The last couple of RS tours we have been on have had a stop or two at wineries where alcohol was dispensed free of charge and non-alcoholic beverages were also provided. Happy Travels.

Posted by
4647 posts

Charlie, on most of the RS tours we have taken alcohol was not included, but on a couple it was. And you're right, there's always some event - tour, special dinner, whatever - where alcohol is included. Our Sicily tour last year included alcohol at most, if not all, the group lunches and dinners. I do remember that on our Barcelona/Madrid tour a few years ago alcohol was included, and some of our group did overindulge. In fact, at one wine bar dinner, we were cut off after a certain number of bottles. Our guide in Sicily last year suggested that the decision of whether or not to include alcoholic beverages depends, at least in part, on the price of wine and beer in the area. So even though the handbook said alcohol wasn't provided, on some trips it still is. Probably not very many, though.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks Jane for doing this blog. I just wanted to add that we took the train back from Bath and it was quite easy. We had a 3:30 pm flight to Seattle at Heathrow so we took the 9:00 am train to Paddington Station and transferred to the Heathrow train. The transfer was quite easy because there is a 4" wide purple line on the floor that takes you right to the Heathrow train. We made it to Heathrow with hours to spare to get through security and relax. We bought our train tickets for Canterbury and from Bath at Victoria Station in London and had no problem at all because they were very helpful. I also wanted to add that if you order the seafood plate at the Lobster Shack in Whitstable, you might want an extra plate to put some of the seafood on because they serve it on ice and it quickly melts and makes a mess of your remaining food.

Posted by
672 posts

Jane, thanks so much for taking the time to write this very thorough report. After reading it, I have to add the tour to my "must do" list. We had Roy as the guide for our Best of England and he's simply one of the best! Would love to travel with him again.

Posted by
38 posts

I echo klapstein's comments. I bought our train tickets online at a very good price prior to leaving for England for the Villages Tour. It was very quick and easy to take the train from Bath to Paddington on the morning of the end of the tour, then transfer directly to the Heathrow Express at Paddington. A taxi we shared from Brook's to the train station was 6 or 7 pounds I think. Some of our tour members who waited to buy tickets in Bath were shocked at the prices.

Posted by
4647 posts

Thanks, klapstein and Lomosh for adding the train info. I think some of the folks who posted earlier thought I meant the bus was the only way to get to the airport. It was the best choice for my tour mate, because she was short on time and hadn't arranged her transportation yet. It's good to know how easy it is to switch to the Heathrow train at Paddington; a lot of people don't like riding the bus.

Klapstein, you're right about the ice melting. I had the seafood plate, and it was messy as the ice melted.

When did you two take the tour? Did you enjoy it? Any other tips or observations?

Posted by
2 posts

We took the trip with you Jane. This is Dick and Kathy from Alaska. I wanted you to know that even though we often lagged behind the group on some of the stops, we could always look way up in front of us and tell where you all were located by the two white hats that you and Stan wore. Thank you for being the Tour Identifiers. Dick

Posted by
4647 posts

Good heavens, I should have recognized the name! Nice to hear from you. We hear from Debra every now and then, as well.

Posted by
1025 posts

Thanks for the tour report. We are going to sign up for this tour as soon as the 2017 schedule is announced. Returning to southern England will be very meaningful for me, since I spent a summer there when I was in college. Re: Transportation - Aer lingus has just started direct service from our home airport (Bradley-Hartford) to Dublin. I am thinking about flying to Dublin and spending couple of days there before the tour starts. On the day before the tour, we would travel from Dublin to Canterbury. We could take a flight from Dublin to London Gatwick, and then a train from Gatwick to Canterbury. At the end of the trip, we could stay in Bath for a couple of days, then fly from Bristol to Dublin, stay overnight in Dublin, and then fly home to Hartford. The Hartford-Dublin flight is very cheap, so this option ends up being around the same price as flying directly to England.

Posted by
698 posts

We have never been to England so this tour is also on my radar (along with 6 or 7 others, lol). These 2 week tours are difficult for us to attend at the moment since we aren't retired yet, especially since I would want to tack on some pre and post tour days.

Thank you for your excellent report. I enjoyed reading it.